The Phoenix Theatre “Brew Ha Ha” Outsmarts The Rain, Takes A Bow
In the same week where the downtown Indianapolis Artsgarden littered Washington St. with falling plaster, a keen eye could focus on bringing renewed attention to our city’s arts. One of those places that could more use exposure is the Phoenix Theatre, which would help benefit its local artists and productions.
To help support their bottom line, the Phoenix Theatre hosted its Brew Ha Ha for the 20th year, just next to the downtown theatre. Rain reigned throughout central Indiana the whole week prior, putting the Brew Ha Ha in jeopardy, but after some ominous clouds at the start, a window of sunshine finally opened up.
Entry at the start with the general admission ticket went extremely smooth as the very friendly volunteers helped get guests in quite efficiently. The best comment overheard while waiting in line? Girl (incredulously)- “That guy’s drinking a Bud Light?!” Guy- “He’s hydrating.”
The Phoenix Theatre is the old guard in Indy beer festivals and the Brew Ha Ha helps support its over 200 productions each year. Of the over 100 paid artists each year, 99% are locally based. Intimacy is the key at the Phoenix Theatre which currently is playing Green Day’s “American Idiot”.
Part of the appeal of this beer fest too is the closeness and intimacy. Some may think it is a bit crowded and cramped, and if you thought that you might be mistaken. Yes, the crowd is a little dense in some areas but personally, I love it because it brings a commune of beer lovers together to enjoy the event together. At least from what I observed, everyone embraced this aspect of it.
The handsome homes and the cool urban surroundings on a beautiful, tree-lined downtown street off of Mass. Ave., were the perfect backdrop to this event. Once you are in the midst of the crowd though, you realize it was not that stuffy at all and you rarely have to spend over one minute in any beer line.
Let me shout this out too: the Indy Hoyden’s Women’s Rugby Club was there once again, providing one dollar pretzel necklaces and free ass-whoopin’s in a come-one/come-all arm wrestling contest. As a former rugby scrum-half, I’m not about to hit the pitch with these ladies because I probably would be so sore I’d miss the party. And if you’ve never attended, or rather, been a part of a rugby party…well, words can’t explain it. (The ladies are chuckling to themselves.)
Careful consideration by the organizers was obviously placed on those who would be invited because it provided a great variety of breweries, old and new, large and small. And on a stage of craft beer with national stars such as Dogfish Head, Oskar Blues, Stone, Founders and Bell’s, Indiana beer more than held its own as the leading character in this story.
Summer officially started just a couple of hours before the event and I did seek out beers perfect for summer, such as kolschs, saisons and sessions, and I found plenty.The variety was such that you could find almost any style and also try something new that would expand your palate.
At any beer festival I think it’s always easy to go to some of your old favorites and that’s because, of course, you like them and they’re really, really good. Resisting this temptation I tried mostly to seek out beers that I had not had before. Here are many of the best of the day.
My wife and I strolled down Park Ave. and first hit favorites like I said I wouldn’t: Bloomington Brewing’s 10-Speed Hoppy Wheat and Scarlet Lane’s Lenore pale ale. We zig-zagged our way around after finishing the first pour and found Indiana City’s Regulate II, which is part of their single-hopped session IPA series. When I was told this was brewed with Wai-iti hops, I squinted my ears and asked again about it, learning these were fairly new New Zealand hops. I am a huge fan of session beers and how brewers are able to do more with less, and I was a big fan of this.
I enjoyed the Malty Lager from Chilly Water and then Elstree from Planetary Brewing, which Doug Goins described as a “non-aggressive” bourbon barrel version of the Old Ale. I encountered Taxman’s Brewing’s very nice Deduction Dubbel and then the contrasting, and very good, Phantom Assassin white IPA from People’s Brewing.
I was happy to sample Rivet from Evansville’s Tin Man before going to Three Pints for the Ultra Faced Wheat. I had heard about one week earlier that they were releasing a most unique, three-pack of cans. Yep, a 3 pack of 3 pints and it was there for all to see. I was told that basically a distribution nightmare overrode the marketing genius of this and it caused them to end the idea before it really got started. But it was cool!
Next on the list were visits at the end of the block to Danny Boy Beer Works (sad the Black IPA didn’t make it!) where I took in Training Day, and of the numerous offerings from Sun King, I had the perfect for summer Popcorn Pilsner. Going back up the block we dove back in to Outliers, Tow Yard, and Broad Ripple Brewpub before going into a tree-covered cove of sorts.
Just about this time is when the sun made an appearance and this area seemed extra popular, not only for the many good beers here but also for the shelter. Looking back on the sweltering heat from last year’s BHH, today’s event was very comfortable.
Upland Brewing brought a super-tasty “Let’s Get Weird dark ale, that is 60% oatmeal stout/40% golden ale and aged with black currants. Next I sampled a really good beer from New Albanian Brewing, their Kaiser 2nd Reising pre-prohibition pilsner, and from there, Grand Junction Brewing owner Jon Knight served up a very nice pair, Black Hat Brigade rye IPA and the Amarillo Sunset, a DIPA.
Next, I took in my very first sample from Flix Brewhouse, and I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed their German Alt. From Fountain Square, I had the anything-but Unruly Rye session ale made with Hull Melon German Hops. Mixed in here, I also took in some American Wheat from Evil Czech Brewery.
I didn’t stay down too long because I took in some of the best beer at the end of the day, which first, was Left Hand Brewing’s udderly (sorry) delicious Milk Stout Nitro. I missed it earlier and was a bit surprised to see that the stout was here. For good measure, I sipped on Good Juju ginger ale while I was there.
It was obvious I wasn’t alone in loving Triton Brewing’s Batch 666: Demon Chief Belgian Golden Ale, due to the heavily populated line. I was quite happy to get this sweet, fruity Belgian-style beer before it ran out, as it paired perfectly with the afternoon.
Wrapping up the event, I visited Figure Ei8ht Brewing out of Valparaiso. I enjoyed a really nice conversation with owner/brewmaster Tom Uban, while I sipped on perhaps my favorite beer of the day. Ro Shampo is an Imperial Red Ale brewed with Cascade, Chinook, Columbus and Sterling hops, riding aboard six different grains. This is a really, really darned good beer!
I talked with Tom about his choice in not calling this an imperial IPA, though he agreed he certainly could have. I can understand his decision however, because the flavorful mixture of malts is quite evident and was not overwhelmed by the large hop presence.The flavors were in perfect balance.
Tom discussed his respect for his fellow Indiana breweries and the northern Indiana ones in particular, as he named them all off. He humbly accepted my compliment on Ro Shampo but he deflected attention to all of his fellow breweries.
Tom and I also talked about the idea of collaboration beers and other things but, I know, right about now you may be getting uncomfortable. You may be thinking I should be moving along and not hogging the line while talking beer with the owner, but rest assured, the day was winding down and I didn’t hold anyone up. This was a perfect ending to a great day!
Fighting against huge odds could have been the theme here because whether you’re a women’s club team in a male-dominated and vastly misunderstood sport, or maybe you’re a local professional theatre trying to hang on tight by your purse-strings, or maybe you are local and national craft beer pitted against large international “Big Beer”, the Phoenix Theatre perfectly brought this act together!
Antagonists were not part of this story because all of the gal and guy characters were wearing white hats. So in the end, the beer gods ruled, natural sunlight shined thru and the Brew Ha Ha ended up getting the last laugh. So up yours, record-setting, June Indiana rain! Phoenix Theatre, take a bow.